From coffee to canopy climbing: 10 adventures in Seattle
No matter what the weather—or your interests—Seattle is ready to meet your desires. Hike, bike, climb, fish, or camp the Cascade mountains and its crown jewel, Mt. Rainier, kayak across Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Puget Sound, or explore the Douglas fir forests of Bainbridge and other nearby islands. At the end of the day, reward yourself with a dozen local Penn Cove mussels and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the nearby Columbia Valley. Read on for more ways to get out there in the Emerald City.
1. Paddle Across Lake Union and Transverse the Locks
Paddle around Lake Union, a freshwater lake in the middle of the city. The lake is a major part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and you'll be dwarfed by some enormous vessels on their way to or from the Hiram Chittenden Locks, which you can (and most definitely should) go through. Once you're spit out on the other side of said locks, you'll be on Puget Sound. Swing a hard right, and enjoy a picnic on the shore of Shilshole Bay, or dine bayside at Ray's Boathouse for classic Pacific Northwestern dishes caught by local fisherman.
You can rent a kayak from one of several outposts—Moss Bay on the south side of the lake, Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle club on the east side, or Northwest Outdoor Center on the west side.
2. Caffeinate on a Coffee Crawl
In 1971, Starbucks opened in Pike Place Market and spawned a coffee revolution. Today, the self-proclaimed Coffee Capital of the World features more than 70 roasters and 399 (or so) coffee shops. To get an overview of the best brews, Seattle Magazine, Marie Claire, and the L.A. Times recommend the Seattle Coffee Crawl, a two-and-a-half hour guided tour. The caffeinated trek starts downtown at the Hammering Man, the famous 48-foot-tall kinetic steel sculpture in front of the Seattle Art Museum. On the crawl, you'll learn everything there is to know about what goes into a killer cuppa, from choosing the best beans and roasting them just so to mastering the fine art of foam decoration. You'll also learn about the real origins of Seattle’s coffee culture, which started with beatniks conspiring against “the man” at a coffee house in the U District in 1958.
3. Trek Through Seattle’s Underground City
After a massive blaze in 1889 destroyed 31 downtown blocks, Seattle’s water pressure never recovered from too many fire hoses being used to douse the flames. This resulted in toilets all over the city backing up every day at high tide. City planners came up with a brilliant solution: Rebuild two stories above the destroyed area.
Nowadays, toilets flush just fine. But what’s even better is that you can wander through the creepy subterranean remains of the original city. Head below the streets on the Seattle Underground Tour, established in 1965 by colorful local character Bill Speidel. Walk down stone passageways, past arched brick storefronts—some with signs still intact—and across dusty, long-abandoned streets. And yes, admire one of the ancient commodes, now resting in peace as part of a historical display. The tour starts in downtown's Pioneer Square, and it’s by no means flip-flop friendly, so put on some sturdy walking shoes.
4. Appreciate the Oddity That is Gas Works Park
Once upon a time, a big old coal gasification plant took up 19 acres of prime real estate on the north side of Lake Union, hogging one of the best views of the downtown skyline. Happily, the plant closed, and in 1965, the city acquired the land and decided to turn it into a public space for everyone to enjoy. The design of the park was handed over to landscape architect Richard Haag, who incorporated the industrial pipes, towers, sheds, and stacks into sculptures, picnic spots, and a play barn for the kids. When you're done roaming what some call the "strangest park in the world," hit the Burke-Gilman Trail, which goes right past Gas Works Park's parking lot and heads north for 12 miles, hugging the shore of Lake Washington along the way.
5. Trek the Glorious Trails of Mount Rainier
"Is the mountain out?" is how Seattleites ask if it's sunny today. That mountain is Mount Rainier, an active volcano that defines the city’s horizon. From Seattle, it looms brilliant white in the distance, an imposing monolith that always tells you which direction you're facing. Close up, the 14,410-foot colossus offers varied terrain to explore, including 26 glaciers, ancient forests, cascading waterfalls, subalpine wildflower meadows, and lakes. It's also home to two volcanic craters, each in excess of 1,000 feet in diameter. Set out on a self-guided hike, or book one of many available specialty tours, like the Ultimate Rainier Tour, which takes you 7,000 feet up via a gondola and drops you off at the Summit House restaurant. Do we need to tell you that you'll be privy to some breathtaking views up there, and so you should probably not forget your camera? We thought not.
6. Take to Horseback in the Cascade Foothills
The Cascade Range, a major player in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire volcano chain, is known for its deep and sparkling alpine lakes, 300 glaciers, and abundance of delicious wild berries ripe for the picking. Just 30 to 90 minutes away from Seattle, the Cascade Foothills are a choice area to enjoy a horseback trail ride with Equine Escapes. As your steed ambles down the trail through evergreen forests and past lush wetlands, keep your eyes peeled for pocket mice, chipmunks, and greater sandhill cranes, which have wingspans of up to five feet. Be sure to have your camera ready to take sweeping shots of the towering, snow-capped mountains when you emerge into the occasional clearing. And don’t worry—you'll be given all the instruction you need to enjoy the ride even if the closest you've ever been to a horse is watching “Mr. Ed” reruns on Nick at Night.
7. Savor the solitude of Kamikaze Falls
Thirty miles southeast of Seattle is a moderately difficult hiking trail that'll take you up to Teneriffe Falls, which seems even more exciting when you call it by its former name, Kamikaze Falls. Start your 6-mile round trip hike at the school bus turnaround off of SE Mt. Si Road near Snoqualmie. Follow Mount Teneriffe Road on foot for two gently inclining miles, then swing a right at the Teneriffe Falls sign. Start climbing up the new trail, which features 22 switchbacks that weave in and out of the trees. Catch your breath at the lower part of the falls, then continue up the trail until you reach the upper falls, which lie about 3 miles from the trailhead at an elevation of 2,370 feet—1,420 of which you've gained on the hike. At the top, listen to the water roar as it cascades 414 feet down and feast your eyes on sweeping views of the mountains.
8. Cycle through the Snoqualmie Tunnel (If you dare)
If you'd rather poke out your own eyeballs than ride a bicycle up a mountain, Compass Outdoor Adventures' 23-mile, self-guided downhill bike ride along the John Wayne Trail is for you. You'll catch a shuttle at the North Bend Park & Ride at 10 a.m. sharp and make the 35-minute trip to Hyak, near Snoqualmie Pass, where you'll enter the pitch black, 2.3 mile-long Snoqualmie tunnel before descending the mountain, passing waterfalls and giant, defunct railroad trestles on your way back to North Bend. End your ride at Rattlesnake Lake, where you can cool off with a swim or a picnic before the shuttle picks you up at 3 p.m. The minimum age for this ride is 8, and the shuttle will accommodate up to 40 people.
9. Rock-a-bye in the Treetops
On Bainbridge Island across the sound from Seattle, you can climb 200-foot-tall trees. Originally a center for the logging industry, the island is now home to Sacred Groves, a 10-acre nature sanctuary dedicated to preserving the area’s giant Douglas firs. Tour operators AdventureTerra will get you rigged up in a harness and teach you some pro climbing tips. After that, begin your ascent to the tip tops of the trees to enjoy a picnic lunch in the forest canopy. Spend the next few hours communing with the birds and taking in a squirrel’s-eye view of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountain range. Once you're back on terra firma, the shuttle will take you back to the ferry, or you can book an overnight stay in one of Sacred Groves’ modern yurts. You can participate in this adventure whether you're 9 (the minimum age) or 90.
10. Up Your Salmon Fishing Game
Bill Swann, who goes by the name of Swanny, has dedicated his life to improving the skills of anglers in the Pacific Northwest. Go fishing with Swanny as your guide during a four-hour fishing adventure to the Columbia, Cowlitz, Wynoochee, or Satsop River. Here, you'll have access to some of the best King Salmon fishing on the entire planet. Whether you're an expert angler or a total novice, you'll learn something from Swanny, who will provide the rod and all the tackle and bait you'll need to catch yourself some dinner. Back at HQ, he'll help you clean and pack your fish so they don't stink up the ride home.